How convenient

Photo Credit JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF

In late March the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) made the snap decision to cull healthy cows as well as cows infected with mycoplasma bovis on 38 ‘active’ infected properties. Wiping out their herds left dairy farmers on those properties in perilous financial freefall. With many heavily in debt and falling milk prices, the decision to confiscate cows was made without consultation, and with promises of compensation that, to date, have not all been kept.

Mary and Sarel Potgieter were sharemilkers on the Tainui farm in Morven until last year. After MPI seized and slaughtered all their cows, some diseased but most healthy, they are now destitute, living in a caravan in Australia, waiting for MPI to compensate them for the loss of their cows and their income. They regret alerting MPI to the disease.  Quote.

“Mycoplasma bovis and MPI has ruined our life, our whole livelihood, our business,” says Mr Potgieter.

For months, they begged to be allowed to manage the outbreak. But all 1200 were culled in December, including 900 healthy cows.

“When you’re putting healthy cows on the truck, and calm cows and beautiful cows, what’s the reason for that?” says Mr Potgieter. “It’s bloody ridiculous.”

Soon their business died as well.” End of quote.

How convenient. The Green party must be thrilled with this turbocharged solution to their plan to reduce dairy cow numbers after outlining their plans for our dairy industry last year.  Quote.

“The Greens intend pushing ahead with their plan to pay dairy farmers to convert to other forms of farming.

James Shaw said dairy farmers would need help to change.

Green MPs will hold some ministerial jobs outside Cabinet under their supply and confidence agreement with Labour, and although exact portfolios have yet to be announced, the party says it will have responsibilities for cleaning up waterways.

Prior to the election, the Green Party said it would pay more than $136 million for farmers to move to more sustainable practices and if it were in government it would invest in a Sustainable Farming Fund.

Green Party leader James Shaw said a priority would be putting together a package to help farmers make the transition from dairy farming.”  End of quote.

Whether the government decides to try and contain the disease or eradicate it, the costs are the same – $1billion  which is considerably more than the $136m that James Shaw expected to pay to move dairy farmers to more sustainable farming.

We’ve known about mycoplasma bovis since 2015 but MPI only addressed it in July 2017. That’s three years of doing nothing and ten months without action plans. It was followed by MPI’s awful knee-jerk response, which left dairy farmers reeling and the government dithering over the way forward, clearly aimless without the working group they didn’t have time to put together.

Every other major dairy farming country has it, but we are one of the last countries in the world to discover the disease, so we do know how it is spread: cow-to-cow contact, contaminated equipment and feeding untreated milk to calves. Keith Woodford expressed his opinion back in August 2017 on the strategies necessary to contain the disease and speculated back then that the disease may already be widespread. Quote.

The official flow of information following the outbreak has been both limited and contradictory. No doubt MPI officials have worked to the limit of their ability. But as so often seems to be the case in New Zealand with risk management issues, there were insufficiently detailed ‘in-place’ systems to deal with the outbreak. End of quote.

Our dairy farmers are perfectly capable of taking measures to reduce infection. They can restrict cattle movements, separate out diseased cows, sterilise equipment thoroughly, stop feeding raw milk to calves and take precautions with clothing and boots which can transfer the disease.

Why are we taking the sadistic course of action of culling healthy cows? What if these healthy cows had developed an immunity to the disease? We will never know. But, we do know that other countries manage the disease without culling healthy animals.

A crippled dairy farming industry, an autocratic and negligent governing body and a government that sit on their hands, listening to an element that wants to decimate the dairy industry, is our version of the keystone cops. The only winners in this story are the Greens who are getting what they wanted, which is fewer dairy cows.

The government’s decision on Monday to eradicate or contain will be driven by the Greens and their desire to cull, cull, cull.


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